Thirty years after the first Singlehanded Transpacific Race, theres a grassroots, run-what-you-brung, lets-celebrate-life spirit still thriving in West Coast shorthanded sailing. You wont find any French celebrity sailors with million-euro budgets. Nobodys out to beat the world; theyre out to beat their friends. But if youre thinking pushover, you havent met those friends. Lets pick just a few highlights from one case study, singling out Skip Allan from 22 entrants in last summers singlehanded race from San Francisco Bay to Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii:
Allans Wildflower was built on a budget and its been sailed, hard, on a budget; dont bother trying to sell this guy any gadgets he doesnt need. This handy little boat has solo-cruised the Pacific (twice) and Alaska. There is no better case study of what it really takes. Skip hands his visitor the instrument panel (photos page 50). That, or were looking at a mockery done up with marking pens in a moment of wry. Every high-tech advance is at your fingertips, if you have an active imagination. Drawing a comparison between himself and his buddy and sometime shipmate, the grand-prix navigator Stan Honey, Allan says, Stan and I are friends, but were polar opposites when it comes to technology. For his part, Honeyhe won the 1994 Solo Transpac with the fastest time in all 100-plus CaliforniaHawaii crossings in Cal 40s since 1965remembers Skip as one of the big kids when I was growing up at LAYC [Los Angeles Yacht Club]. He was already a legend, winning everything, and I would say now that along with being a great shipmate, in the traditional sense, he is one of the 3 or 4 best seamen on the planet.
Threatened with being pegged here as Robert M. Skip Allan III, per the official Transpac history book, Skip responds with a silence and a gulp and says, Im not really a fan of references to Robert M. Allan III. Its so not me. But the man has good genes. His father, Bob, crewed the 1949 record passage to Hawaii of the schooner Morning Star and developed new weather protocols from knowledge gained during WWII. Skip, following youthful success in the Star class, lived the life of a professional sailor and migrated from Southern to Northern California. He has not been paid to race in five years, which requalifies him as an amateur, but not your average amateur.
Allan placed second in the inaugural Solo Transpac 30 years ago. That leaves unfinished business. Wildflowers IOR/Half-Ton pumpkin seed shape should not, no way, have been faster through the water than the Santa Cruz 27 that won for Norton Smith, who, Allan is quick to say, sailed a heck of a race. But an unspoken thought hangs in the air: What if they had switched boats?
Wildflower is very 1970s; forget high tech. Skip says, Actually, there is some carbon fiber on board, and whips out a knee brace that he doesnt expect to be wearing much. He adds, Crossing solo is easier than going doublehanded [oops, add to our highlights listing Wildflowers overall win in the 2002 Pacific Cup, competing doublehanded with Tad Palmer aboard].
Sailing doublehanded, you feel obligated to hand-steer, Allan says. After a week of three hours on, three off, youre fried. Going solo, self-steering is on duty most of the time and its a little slower, but we accept that.